The Great Writer as Adolescent: Re-reading Andre Gide's Journals
Re-reading Gide's journals tonight, I am struck by how he obsessed over his image, over how others saw him. It is a little jejune for Gide to fret over what impressions his ideas and books make on others AFTER he has won public notoriety with his sex life. And how could it have been otherwise - I admit he was in a sore spot with Corydon and his autobiography - but still the overall impression of the journals is of adolescent angst.
Gide's introduction to Montaigne is a case in point. Andre Gide thinks he adds sharpness to Michel de Montaigne when all he is adding to Montaigne is Gide. Gide's Montaigne is 'risky' and 'impudent' because Gide has failed to discern his good taste from his ego.
Then there are Gide's assays into fields he is ignorant of. Three specific great writers he mentions in his journals he has signally failed to come to grips with.
First there is Marx. Gide's flirtation with communism is embarrassing because it reveals his adolescent-level political consciousness, limited (as politics should be with adolescents) to a passing enthusiasm.
Then William James. He thinks James' 'Psychology' is boring after a few pages, because he cannot understand the way James has reinvented the human soul along scientific lines without any loss of humanity or grandeur.
Finally in Freud he can see only the value of Freud as a de-mystifyer of sexual matters. About Freud's compulsive prose and striking insight into inner realities, not a word. He likes Freud because he is 'impudent'.
Gide consistently gets these great writers in a nutshell but misses the nut. And it's not simply a failure of his time or place, but a failure of imagination. Gide is too busy being 'impudent' to read these serious writers for adults.
I love Gide's work and personality, but the truth is he is basically an adolescent playing at being an adult much of the time. And it is a bitter pleasure to have outgrown his tutelage, and seen his limitations for what they are. Andre Gide is no less a great writer for the truth about him being less than complimentary. In fact, the pleasure of seeing the truth about him has inspired me to read his novels again.